Planning magazine has run a feature Ensuring cheats do not prosper* on the use of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (POCA) against landlords who have carried out development, including flat conversions, without planning permission. The court cases themselves are not new - they date from 2012 - but the story highlights a growing trend in local authority planning enforcement to make more use of the POCA legislation.
Two out of the top five cases cited involved residential conversions, including the most renowned case of its kind where Norwich Crown Court imposed a £1.4million fine on a landlord who converted a house in the London Borough of Brent into 12 flats without planning permission. The size of the fine is related to the rental stream deemed to have been generated as a result of the illegal conversion.
In a separate story from 2012 on the website of lawyers Pinsent and Mason, dealing with a £300,000 fine on a man who converted 4 houses into 28 flats in North London, resident planning law expert Simon Colvin is reported to have said:
"The Proceeds of Crime Act is a very powerful tool in a Local Authority's enforcement tool box. Regulators such as the Environment Agency have been employing POCA for some time. ...POCA is complicated and its complexity is deterring a number of local authorities from employing it. As more and more local authorities become alive to the benefits of POCA and they start to share experiences and learning, I expect its use will become much more prevalent."
Empty homes practitioners beware!
This doesn't have much direct relevance to local authority empty homes pracittioners other than to reinforce the absolute need to make it clear to any client who has a property suitable for conversion that they need to deal directly with the local authority planners about planning matters. Suggestions along the lines that "maybe you could convert it" which are not then followed up with written advice on the need to engage with planners would be unwise.
*Note: the Planning article is available to subscribers only